[Irl-dean] Accessibility of PDF Format Resources?

Barry McMullin mcmullin at eeng.dcu.ie
Mon Nov 20 11:09:06 GMT 2006

On Sat, 18 Nov 2006, brendan spillane wrote:

> The one thing that did come out at me and is one of the things I
> always tell me self I will do some research on is how accessible are
> accessible PDF?
> >From this I understand that
> 1. it is possible
> 2. it is as not just a case of describing the images etc

Thanks to Brendan (and Josh, again) for their comments.

To be clear, I am suggesting that the work (and cost) in making a
typical document "accessible" is essentially independent of
whether this is "accessible PDF" or "accessible X/HTML+CSS" -
i.e., it is neither much harder *nor* much easier to do
"accessible PDF".  This was my core point, because many people
seem to have the idea that because producing "presentational
PDF" is so very easy, then producing "accessible PDF" is probably
easy as well - or, at least, easier that than horrible
complicated X/HTML thing; whereas I want to say it is really much
of a muchness: the essential task is the same regardless of which
output format is targetted.  And that being the case, there are
some reasons for actually *preferring* "accessible X/HTML+CSS"
over "accessible PDF" (although either is, or course, vastly
superior to the typical inaccessible dross that is currently
pervading the web, in both HTML and PDF formats...).

I have now attempted to make this more explicit in a revision of
my "summary recommendation" section.  Admittedly this makes it
rather less "summary", but hopefully a bit more clear...

> On a day to day basis I meet website administrators who use PDFs on
> their website and in some cases they are reluctant to begin producing
> these documents in an accessible format either because "this is the
> way we ahev always done it" or because they just see the extra
> production time etc.

Yes indeed: but this is precisely a "culture switch" we have to
work and argue for.

Certainly, for most Irish public sector bodies, we need to be
working on bringing them around to the understanding that this is
no longer an "optional extra".  As usual, I'm not a lawyer and
this is not legal advice, but certainly that would be my
understanding of the Disability Act 2005, as elaborated in the
recent NDA Code of Practice.  So it should no longer be a
question of *whether* to make documents accessible, but simply
the detail of whether the "accessible" format should then be HTML
or PDF.  The danger is that, simply because both clients and
agencies are familiar with the ease of generating (inaccessible)
PDF, they will now default to trying to generate "accessible" PDF
as their "standard" approach.  Of course, this would still
absolutely be a giant leap forward over the current situation,
but I'd like to encourage organisations to just reflect a
*little* bit more carefully and realise that, for just the same
effort, they can target accessible HTML, which is an even better
option from the accessibility point of view in most cases that I
have come across (while still retaining the PDF version - whether
"accessible" or not! - but just to facilitate those people who
actually *want* a "print-oriented" option).

> Do CFIT or any other organisations/companies provide training in
> producing accessible PDFs or is your stance to not use them?

Can't speak for CFIT.  In my case, the stance is to use them, by
all means, as long as that is not *instead* of accessible HTML;
but if someone claims they have to *choose* just one of
"accessible PDF" and "accessible HTML" then I would recommend
accessible HTML every time.

As to training, we don't offer any training on producing
accessible PDFs - basically for the reason I've just given above,
that, in my particular view, it's usually preferable (no more
expensive, and more accessible) to target an accessible HTML

Best - Barry.

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